Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Broadband Stimulus Timeframe: USDA Confirms Separate and Simultaneous Notice for Launch of Stimulus Funding Round 05/19/09 The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed that the Department will be issuing a separate Notice – separate from the similar Notice to be issued by the Commerce Department -- launching the first funding round for broadband stimulus funds.

USDA has also confirmed information we first reported here that the Department will be issuing its Notice simultaneously with that of Commerce, and that both Notices will be promulgated “between mid- to late June” of this year.

Separate and Simultaneous Issuance

As we first reported on April 13, the specific name for the federal guidelines to be separately and simultaneously issued is Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA). The significance of the issuance date and listed specific criteria of the agency NOFAs is that the documents will launch the grant, loan, and loan guarantee rounds for the total of $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds contained in the federal Recovery Act.

Under the Act, formally called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of USDA, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce will be dispersing $2.5 billion and $4.7 billion in ARRA funds, respectively.

USDA Rural Development Spokesman Jay Fletcher stated in an interview, “We emphasize that we have been, and will continue to, work very closely with NTIA” as the USDA drafts its NOFA. Mr. Fletcher also stated that Agriculture and Commerce are working to issue their respective NOFAs at the same time, both in the "mid- to late June" window.

Oversight by Executive Office of the President

Fletcher also confirmed that as the 2 line agencies work together on their respective policies and funding criteria, their efforts are further coordinated by staff of the Executive Office of the President (EOP). The USDA spokesman stated that the Department "Absolutely is in constant communications, and in cooperative communication, with the Administration."

In our story of May 8, we quoted colleague Ms. Liz Zucco about the coordination of RUS - NTIA policies by the Obama Administration, " Senior officials have now confirmed that the final rule making has now been placed back at the Administration level. This should help adhere to the original standards as set forth by Congress, and in the Federal Register." Ms. Zucco, President of Georgia based MarketSYS USA, is a telecommunications consultant with years of experience successfully supporting grant applicants for RUS funds.

Existing USDA Rural Telecom Regulations

Speaking about the decision to issue separate NOFAs, a USDA Rural Development senior policy official reported to on background, and not for specific attribution, that both agencies, RUS and NTIA, had recently determined in consultation with unnamed officials of the Obama Administration that “one size does not fit all”. The need for separate, albeit simultaneously issued, NOFAs is driven by the fact that USDA has ongoing programs funding rural telecom.

Given that these continuing programmatic efforts of the Rural Development division of USDA -- the division which includes RUS -- operate under an established body of regulations, the NOFA to be issued by the agency for ARRA broadband stimulus funds must be groomed to coordinate with those strictures already in use in rural jurisdictions around the country.
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